The government will open a probe into sexual assault and abuse within mental health wards following an investigation by The Independent and Sky News.
Responding to a major joint investigation this week, which exposed tens of thousands of reports of sexual assault and harassment on NHS run mental health wards, Heath Secretary Victoria Atkins said a national review would consider “patient and staff safety with regard to allegations of sexual assault and rape.”
In one story, exposed in an exclusive podcast from Sky News – Patient 11 – former patient Alexis Quinn revealed how she was forced to escape a hospital after two sexual assaults on two different wards.
Last year the health secretary at the time, Steve Barclay, launched a review into inpatient mental health services following a series of reports by The Independent. The review, will be led by safety watchdog the Health Services Safety Investigation Body.
Within this exisiting probe, the body said it would seek to “Understand and consider whether the sexual safety of staff and patients within a mental healthcare inpatient setting has been considered and ensured.”
However, experts and patients have said the government’s response is “not good enough” accusing it of attempts to “defer” the issue to the next government as the review will not be completed until the end of 2024.
HSSIB will not have any powers to act where it does see evidence of sexual assault or rape allegations beyond reporting this to the police and Care Quality Commission.
Following The Independent and Sky News’ story Ms Atkins said in a statement HSSIB would seek to address patient safety risks and make recommendations to improve systems.
She said: “This will include consideration of patient and staff safety with regard to allegations of sexual assault and rape. The investigations will conclude by the end of 2024.”
This is the first time the DHSC has acknowledged the problem of sexual assault within mental health services.
The Independent and Sky News’s investigation brought to light multiple accounts from patients and families over their sexual assault within NHS mental health trusts.
Ms Quinn, responding to the statement from the DHSC, said: “My view is that while I am pleased the uncovering of the appalling sexual violations people, including myself, have endured are to be included within the review, its scope is insufficient. It is clear the safety and integrity of people on mental health inpatient wards is at risk across the country, with significant increases in sexual abuse occurring year on year.“
“Changes in law, policy, and culture must happen and this should be an urgent priority.
She added that it was “difficult to understand” how 20,000 instances of sexual incidents “are not taken seriously by the government and I feel our suffering has been largely ignored.”
Professor Charlie Brooker, one of the few academics in the UK who has examined the relationship between sexual assault and mental illness, said: “It would be fair to say that the safety standards determined by the Royal College of Psychiatrists are neither being implemented or reported on. In this sense, no mental health trust is ‘ensuring’ the sexual safety of patients or staff.“
“The HSSIB will report by the end of 2024 thus conveniently deferring the HSSIB report to the election period and the subsequent administration. This is not good enough when we know already how bad the situation is already. More urgent action is required now”